New research shows that exercising the mind can alleviate pressure and anxiety, making mental health workouts a treatment option worth further investigation.
What are mental health workouts?
Just like routinely lifting weights can help muscles adapt to physical stress, some experts say performing these types of activities regularly can help people adapt to mental pressure.
In 2022, one in four US adults said that most days, they are so stressed they cannot function, according to the annual Stress in America survey published by the American Psychological Association.
Furthermore, roughly three-quarters of adults (76%) said they have experienced negative health effects due to stress, including headaches, fatigue, and depression. On the back of these startling statistics, in recent years, there has been a rise in the use of mental health gyms – using wellbeing workouts to relieve the stresses of everyday life.
The gyms encourage people to perform mental health exercises to decrease anxiety and depression. At one such gym, Inception, based in the United States, attendees immerse themselves in boot camps and circuit training featuring equipment to help the brain relax. These include infrared saunas, zero-gravity chairs, flotation therapy tanks, and neurofeedback therapy.
Another mental health gym, YourLife gym in Pennsylvania, recommends journaling to clients seeking to build self-esteem and mental resilience – something that is not always attained by simply lifting weights.
These gyms hope approaching mental health through a traditional fitness lens will help reduce the stigma that stops millions of adults from seeking help.
Why are such gyms needed?
More than half of adults in the US – over 28 million people – living with a mental illness do not receive treatment, according to Mental Health America. While people may be familiar with going to a traditional gym to keep physically fit, the mental health gym’s aims are to normalize mental health by softening it with the word gym.
Vaile Wright, a senior director at the American Psychological Association, agrees that journaling, meditation, and other self-soothing activities at mental health gyms are useful holistic approaches to mental health. But they are not replacements for treatment or working with a licensed mental health professional, she said.
“These places typically are not healthcare services. That’s what’s important to know but not always understood by consumers. So, if they go and they get worse, that could have really significant consequences. How do these places handle a crisis? How do they decide if somebody needs a higher a level of care?”
Meanwhile, Dr Lloyd Sederer, an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, raised concerns about the fact some mental health gyms exist exclusively online.
Those with actual emotional distress or illness will have a hard time committing to any routine activities online. For instance, Alcoholics Anonymous urges against trying to treat alcoholism solely virtually. according to Sederer. He states,
“If someone asked me, ‘Hey doc, what’s the key thing I need to do to get back functioning?’ I’d say medication, therapy, diet, sleep, and exercise, those are the core,”
What to expect at a mental health gym
Some mental health gyms are equipped with licensed therapists and have no physical fitness element at all. Indeed, a large number of people wait until a crisis hits to start working on their mental health, and so the mental health gyms’ mission is how to help society start working on their mental wellbeing earlier.
The average delay between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Such gyms are springing up in order to make mental healthcare enjoyable, accessible, and integrated into daily life. By doing so, their aim is to provide the key to optimizing mental health.
Mental health classes on offer at one gym include Emotional Push-Up classes. This is defined as any small exercise that can build emotional strength over time. It is likened to creating a ‘self-esteem file.’
Alexa Meyer, co-founder, and CEO of COA, an online-based mental health gym using licensed therapists, explained what a self-esteem file might include,
“Every time something good happens to you, or every time you receive positive feedback, drop that in your self-esteem file. When you are going through a tough time, you can refer back to some of the positive things in your life and the positive feedback you’ve received.”
Like with any fitness routine, she believes that just as with physical exercise, when you do a lot of emotional push-ups, over time, you start to build strength.
When you consider why people head to the gym in their droves, the answers correspond closely to those benefits attained at mental health gyms. Self-esteem, the feeling of wellbeing, and distraction from the hustle and bustle of everyday life are available in either type.
Yet mental health gyms might just offer an extra something that lifting weights or hours spent on the treadmill might not.
Have you ever been to a mental health gym? Would you give one a go? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.